"Ditzy!" cried the purple-maned P as she drew alongside her. "The moon! There's something wrong. It's not slowing down!"
Ditzy turned, and knew straightaway that the mare was right. The moon had grown huge, far bigger than usual, even during the spring moon festival, and instead of its stately ascent along the arch of the sky, it was headed on a near-horizontal path straight for the castle.
With both forelegs Ditzy waved the fliers to a halt, and as a group they hung bobbing against the night sky. The pegasi looked across at the looming white orb and began to mutter.
"Is it supposed to be moving so fast?" said one.
"It's not slowing down," whispered another.
"It's out of control!" cried a third.
"And it's - it's headed right for us!"
The team began to devolve into a confused mob, muttering and glancing at the moon and each other until one, a pegasus stallion with a yellow coat and a violet mane, suddenly split off from the rest of the group.
"I don't know about all of you," he cried, his eyes wide with fear. "But I'm getting out of here!" He turned and fled, flying off in the direction of the mountains as fast as his wings would carry him.
He was quickly joined by several others, and soon the rainbow of the Amateur Aerial Performance Team had split in two, one group making for the mountains, the others hanging in the air, looking at each other in a mixture of fear and confusion.
Meanwhile, in the streets and squares of Canterlot, ponies here and there in the crowd were pointing up at the rapidly growing disc of the moon and the disintegrating rainbow in the sky.
"Look at the moon," cried one. "Something's gone wrong!"
"The fliers are leaving!" cried another.
And throughout the great crowd that had gathered in the central square of the castle itself, frightened voices also began to make themselves heard.
"It's going to smash right into the castle!"
"Oh, where is Princess Luna?"
"I haven't seen her all evening."
"Maybe something's happened to her!"
"Where's Princess Celestia?"
The crowd turned as one towards the balcony where on every other Spring Moon Celebration the Princess could be seen watching the spectacular. But the balcony was empty.
"She's not there!"
"Nopony's seen her for hours!"
It was the last straw. A multitude of cries rose up as ponies began to push past each other towards the gates that led out into the city. The pegasus guards, who had been eyeing the restlessness of the crowd with growing nervousness, stepped forward in a vain attempt to calm them and push them back. But there were simply too many ponies, and soon what had started as a boisterous but well-behaved crush turned into a desperate stampede.
The same thing was happening on the hospital roof. The roar of the frightened crowds in the streets and squares nearby had reached them, and it was like a wildfire spreading. A pony near the exit began to force his way past the others, and soon others joined him, until the crowd became a sea of pushing, shoving and shouting ponies.
"Hey, quit shoving, you, you... you big shovers!" cried Pinkie Pie. Pushing her drip out of the way and lifting Spike onto her back, she lowered her head and butted back like a billy-goat at the encroaching wall of ponies nearest to her.
'D'ya think maybe it's some kinda prank?" said Applejack. She was pushing her rump back against a group of panicked ponies behind her that were threatening to squeeze her and Fluttershy together.
Rarity shook her head as she shoved an elbow into one particularly aggressive stallion. "I don't think so, darling. I'm afraid that something has gone terribly, terribly wrong!"
"HEY YOU GUYS!" shouted Ditzy, her face suddenly fierce. "STOP! RIGHT! THERE!"
Few ponies had ever heard Ditzy's shout so loud, and nopony had ever heard her voice so angry. In fact, nopony had ever heard even the slightest tint of anger in Ditzy's voice, and so the ponies who were in the middle of fleeing all stopped and turned, hovering there while they stared at her in a shocked fascination that even the looming moon could not distract them from.
Ditzy felt all their eyes on her, and she stared back at them, swallowing nervously.
Then she cried, "We can't leave!"
There was a dumb silence, and then somepony asked, "Why not?"
"We've got continue the show!" she replied.
The yellow-coated pegasus who had triggered the precipitous flight shook his head in disbelief. "What in Equestria are you talking about?"
"Look down there!" Ditzy pointed down at the crowded streets of Canterlot. A frightened roar of voices was rising up to them. "Everypony is panicking! We have to do something!"
"But what can we do, Ditzy?" demanded the yellow-coated pegasus. "It's the moon! We're not alicorns."
"No, we can't stop the moon," said the blonde-mane pegasus softly. "But panicky hooves are even more dangerous than the moon at the moment! The only thing we can do is buy everypony some time. And besides-" A characteristically Ditzy-sized grin broke onto her face. "-the show must go on!"
Some in the group of fleeing ponies looked at Ditzy, running the truth of her words over in their minds. Others gazed down at the terrified crowds filled streets of Canterlot and felt suddenly ashamed. All of them kept glancing back at the fearful effigy of the moon, but first one, and then another, and soon all of the ponies, including the shame-faced yellow-coated pegasus stallion, flew back into formation.
As Ditzy looked over the frightened but determined pegasi arrayed before her, her eyes began to fill with tears. She impatiently wiped them away with a forehoof and once more addressed her team, her squeaky voice steely with determination.
"Thank you, everypony!" cried Ditzy. "I know you're all scared. I am too! See? My eyes have started to go straight!" There was scattered laughter throughout the crowd, and she grinned. "Now, this might be the last Spring Moon Festival ever, so let's hit them with everything we've got!"
And with that, Ditzy flew straight up, then dived swiftly back down towards the castle, and the entire team, to a pegasus, followed her.
"Where do you think the Princesses are?" the black-maned Q shouted across to Ditzy as he and the purple-maned P flew close behind her, spearing down through the night sky.
"They'll be here!" replied Ditzy, her blonde-mane fluttering backwards with the speed of their descent. And in her gentle, simple heart there was not an ounce of doubt.
The black-maned Q fell back alongside the purple-maned P. He turned to her, his face cast with doubt, and asked, "What do you think?"
The purple-maned P just shook her head and smiled. "I think it'll take a miracle."
Down in Canterlot, the roar of the panicking crowds was suddenly drowned out by the ear-splitting crash of a sonic boom from above them. They all looked up as one as the rainbow, now restored, flew low over the city. Everypony stopped pushing and stared in astonishment, their eyes following the fliers as they rocketed straight up into the sky to form a great, spinning Catherine-wheel of colour.
Then the Catherine-wheel broke apart, and Ditzy brought the rainbow back over the city again and again, running through all their most death-defying moves: the Double Immelmann, the Scintillating Spiral Starburst, the Corkscrew of Almost Certain Doom. There was no longer even any scattered shoving, as all eyes were glued to the astounding feats happening just above their heads.
"See!" cried Pinkie Pie on the roof of the hospital, hopping up and down, her head swivelled back and forth just like she was watching a tennis game. "I told you it was all just part of the show! Woohoo! Yeah! Go fliers!"
The other ponies on the rooftop stopped pushing and shoving and slowly, shame-facedly, they shuffled back towards the balustrade. Squeezing back up together alongside Applejack and the others, they craned their necks, eager to catch the next amazing move the fliers would make.
Spitfire and Rainbow sped ever onward through the cold night air across the mountains in pursuit of the moon. Every muscle in every part of their bodies were beyond aching now - and yet they flew on.
Spitfire drew alongside Rainbow and in between deep gasps she asked, "Where do you think Princess Celestia has gone?"
"The Princess is never around when stuff like this happens," Rainbow replied. "So as usual, it's up to us to save the day."
"But there's no way we'll be able to get in front of it!" protested Spitfire.
"That's where these babies come in," said Rainbow, patting the fireworks on her back.
Spitfire looked at her as if she was crazy. "You're... you're not planning on blowing up the moon, are you?"
Rainbow chuckled. "What? Actually, that would be pretty cool - but I don't think there're enough fireworks in all of Equestria to manage that. No, we're just going to give ourselves a little extra boost."
Spitfire's eyes boggled. "We're going to set these fireworks off? While we're still wearing them?"
Rainbow nodded. "Just as soon as we're going fast enough to hit the Rainboom and the Fire Tornado."
"The Rainboom and the Fire Tornado?" Spitfire's eyes went wide. "At the same time? D, that's suicide!"
Rainbow smiled. "I know, right?"
Spitfire shook her head. "You're totally insane."
Rainbow chuckled. "A lot of ponies have said that before, yeah."
The two pegasi flew faster, ever faster, egging each other on and drawing on the last tiny specks of energy remaining in their bodies. It was Rainbow's forehooves, cutting the air before her, that first began to give off flecks of multi-coloured light, but not long after, glowing sparks appeared around Spitfire's forehooves, as their friction approached ignition point and the air around her crackled and sizzled.
Spitfire couldn't help but laugh. "Hey D," she shouted over the sizzling and sparking. "If this works, I promise I'll never doubt anything ever again!"
"Aw, what's the worst that could happen?" laughed Rainbow.
"We blow ourselves to smithereens?" replied Spitfire with a grin.
"'Smithereens'?" Rainbow shrugged. "You know, I have no idea what a 'smithereen' even is."
"What in Equestria are you talking about?"
Rainbow shook her head. "Sorry - I must have been channelling Pinkie Pie for a second there."
Spitfire's face suddenly went serious. "Look, D, whatever happens..."
Rainbow slipped a forehoof into Spitfire's and gripped it tight.
"I know," she said.
Spitfire, her eyes brimming, lifted her other hoof, now crackling with little tongues of flame, in front of them - and then, as the air about them simultaneously exploded into a brilliant, scintillating rainbow and into a violent, shrieking tornado of fire, she reached back and lit the fuses on both their backs.
It was Pinkie who saw them first. On the horizon, flying even faster than the moon, came two points of light - one orange, the other blue.
"Look, look!" she cried, pointing wildly.
"Wha' in tarnation?" muttered Applejack.
Fluttershy clapped her hooves together in delight. "Oh, the show just keeps getting better and better!"
"Is that...?" muttered Rarity, squinting into the distance.
The two shooting stars came closer, and behind them trailed two different wakes - one a fiery path of orange flame, the other the glittering multi-coloured beam of a rainbow. And as they streaked overhead, fireworks burst about them, splashing sparkling embers of every colour across the night sky and tinting the streets and squares of Canterlot.
"It's Spitfire and Rainbow Dash!" gasped Fluttershy.
"Well, o' course it is," chuckled Applejack. "D'you really think either o' those two show-offs could resist stealin' the lime-light?"
The air sparked and fizzled around Twilight as she forced her way through Celestia's magical barrier. She drove herself forward, step by step, ignoring the pain as the unadulterated rainbow magic flowed into her as it strove to push her back.
No pony other than Celestia herself should have been able to pierce through that scintillating barrier - but deep inside Twilight, the connection with the living Light of Creation had been rekindled, fuelled by her desperation and despair. The hostile energy flowing into her from the barrier vanished into the maelstrom already pumping throughout her body, like water poured into a raging river, and Twilight's mane sparked blue and pink and green around her with living light.
And then the final layers of the barrier peeled away and she stumbled through to the other side. Celestia was there, her eyes closed, her horn still deep in the mirror which was bubbling like molten metal. Twilight panicked, and not knowing what else to do, she plunged her own horn into the mirror next to the Princess' own.
As the liquid silver of the mirror flowed over Twilight, a great mass of images came with it, flickered past her mind's eye in rapid succession, and for a long while she could make no sense of them. She was falling through a place where time was scattered backwards and forwards, a series of reflected reflections, image piled upon splintered image, the raw material from which memory is fashioned.
And then suddenly Twilight was in the Testing Centre, the Princess beside her, and she was dancing around in a circle, tossing her mane with joy.
And at the same time she was kneeling on the cobblestones in the great square, shyly looking up at Celestia as the Princess stepped out to greet her and her mother and father.
And she was staring, her face hot with embarrassment, at the Princess leaned down to pick up Smartypants from the flagged floor of the castle corridor.
.... and she there, again, at every lesson the Princess had ever given her, from the simplest telekinetic spells to the most sophisticated and subtle manipulation of rainbow magic, at every little evening stroll they had taken in the castle gardens, every cheerful tea-time chat, every quiet moment, lying beside each other and reading in the Princess' study on those long winter nights that lasted forever those balmy summer nights when the air was thick like mist the day she left for Ponyville the aftermath of the battle with Nightmare Moon the devastation of Ponyville by the parasprites...
...and everywhere and everywhen Twilight reached out to Celestia and, touching her coat with a forehoof, she asked, "Tia?"
...and everywhere and everywhen, the Princess's face took on a look of bewilderment that quickly turned to fright.
"Twilight?" whispered Celestia, and the same whisper echoed across every memory they had ever shared. "How did you...?"
Suddenly the Testing Centre shuddered, the walls buckled inwards, wobbling as if it were being viewed through choppy water... and then all colour drained from the stone and it turned a hideous silver, reflecting Twilight and Celestia and everything else in the hall on its molten surface.
At the same time, In the Great Square, the spring sunshine faded away and the sky took on an ominous, silvery cast. Twilight looked up, and saw herself and Celestia and her parents and all the great open square reflected in it.
The entire sky had become a mirror.
And so had the walls of the castle corridor, and the walls of her tower, and the ceiling of the dining room, where she and the Princess had eaten breakfast for the first time together, and the walls of the Princess' study where they had drunk tea and chatted about history, and everywhere and everywhen, in every memory that the two shared, the hideous mirror began to appear...
... and Twilight and Celestia watched in horror as it spilled over them like a wave, turning everything the same horrible silver and taking with it all time, space and memory.
The air around Spitfire and Rainbow crackled and sparked, a brilliant confusion of flame and rainbow and the constant explosion of the fireworks on their backs. They were going so fast now that the air before them felt like a wall of solid ice, and their faces ached, chilled to the bone. The rest of their bodies, however, felt like they were on fire, which in actual fact they were.
With every explosion, the fireworks added to their forward momentum, but the heat of them was close to unbearable, and both Rainbow and Spitfire were singed and covered in soot that smelled of brimstone.
But their gamble had paid off. The mighty blue-white orb was right beside them now, gargantuan in close range, blocking out the sight of everything else. The two pegasi banked closer little by little, careful not to crash into its glowing surface.
Even though Rainbow and Spitfire were now flying literally cheek to cheek, they still had to shout to be heard over the scream of the wind, the roar of the moon, and the crack of the detonating fireworks.
"We've got one chance," shouted Rainbow. "If we screw this up, we're going to end up as moon-pancakes."
"I really don't want that written on my tombstone," Spitfire shouted back.
They were flying so close now that they could feel the moon's great bulk pulling them closer.
"We're listing too far to the right," shouted Spitfire. "Bank left, D, bank LEFT!"
Rainbow nodded, and the two pegasi, acting as one with the precision timing that only came through years of training, banked left, slipping alarmingly closer to the great orb as they did so.
The blue-silver surface flew up at them, and for a heart-beat Rainbow hesitated.
"D!!" shouted Spitfire. "You're gonna have to bank sharper, or else...!"
"But we'll go straight into the moon!" Rainbow shouted back.
Spitfire smiled. "D, trust me. I'd never let anything happen to you. Bank NOW!"
Rainbow's heart was in her throat as she did as Spitfire said. The surface of the moon flew up at her, and for a second she imagined she could already feel the impact as she crashed into it. Then it miraculously pulled away again, and she was flying parallel with the surface as it curved beneath her with Spitfire at her side.
Great gusts of glowing moondust flew up around them as they streaked across the surface of the moon, and Rainbow and Spitfire had to squint to see where they were going.
"Are you sure the Princess is this way?" shouted Rainbow. It was hard to make out anything in the moondust, and if they overshot...
"Our angle of approach was perfect," Spitfire shouted back. "She should be just ahead of-"
"There's she is!" cried Rainbow.
"Where?" shouted Spitfire back. She could only see the great silver-blue curve of the moon's surface and the great clouds of dust that spilled across it.
"There!" cried Rainbow. "To the left!"
Rainbow was right. It was Luna!
With all four legs splayed out against the surface of the moon, the alicorn had almost given up hope. But then she heard shouting, barely audible over the roar of the moon, and with a colossal effort she turned her head to see two pegasus ponies streaking towards her.
Luna had no chance to cry out, but there was just enough time for her pupils to go wide in astonishment....
...and then Spitfire was grabbing her left foreleg, and Rainbow her right, and she felt a huge lurch as she was dragged from the moon's surface and pulled up into the air.
"Now, D!" screamed Spitfire. "Bank RIGHT!"
With the last of her energy and a huge shout of effort, Rainbow pulled up, and the two pegasi, with Luna hanging between them, broke free of the moon and streaked away, leaving it quickly behind.
It felt like mere moments later that the lights of Canterlot appeared beneath them.
"We're sorry Your Highness!" Rainbow cried down to the still dazed Luna. "But we can't stop to give you a more dignified entrance."
"We'll leave the moon up to you," shouted Spitfire. "After all, you are the expert."
Luna shouted back her gratitude, but "Tha-" was all she managed to say before Spitfire and Rainbow let go of her and she found herself plummeting down through the chill night air. She shook herself, cracking her mighty limbs that were still aching from having been glued to the moon's surface for so long, and sweeping out her wings and delighting in the freedom that had been restored to her, she dived down and cut through the air towards Canterlot Castle, now aglow with the baleful light of the approaching moon.
Twilight blinked. The gleaming molten tidal-wave had suddenly vanished, and she was standing in the little sheltered courtyard with its old blossom-spotted tree. Celestia was standing beside her.
The feeling of having returned almost to the present was jarring, like a déjà vu that refused to fade away, but Twilight quickly pushed it from her mind.
She looked up at Tia, who was staring at her with tears in her eyes.
"This... this is the only place we have left," whispered Celestia. "My most precious memory. It must have been here that I finally realised that I loved you, Twilight Sparkle."
"And... and your other memories?" Twilight knew the answer even as she asked.
"I can feel them fading away." Celestia looked at Twilight, her eyes pleading. "Twilight. Forgive me. I... just wanted to remove those thoughts of love from my heart, so that I wouldn't feel them anymore. But the mirror's spell - the spell has worked all the way back to when we first met. It... it wants to remove every memory of you from me." She closed her eyes. "It must be that I've always loved you, ever since the first time we met."
There was a rumbling, and the floor of the little courtyard began to shudder. Near them, the tree shivered and the blossoms along its boughs were shaken off. A veil of tiny petals began to fall around them like snow.
"It's coming now... the spell," said Celestia, opening her eyes again. "Once the quicksilver has spread over us this last time, I'll forget everything about you. I'm... I'm sorry, Twilight."
Twilight stared at her dumbly. "Can't... can't we do anything?"
Celestia shook her head. "You... you must forget me too, Twilight. Promise me that you will." She dropped her eyes to the floor. "I... I never deserved the happiness that you brought me, Twilight. I always wanted to keep it all for myself, keep you locked away in this castle forever. Go back to Ponyville. It's why I sent you there in the first place. To get you away from me. I was always too selfish. Too weak."
"It's not your memories that make you weak, Tia," said Twilight, speaking at last. "It's running away from them that does." She locked her eyes with Celestia's, and the Princess found that as much as she wanted to, she couldn't turn away. Tears began to fall from Twilight's eyes, and she let them flow down her cheeks as she continued to speak. "I... I want to remember us... and even though the memories will bring me pain, I still want them. I will live with the sorrow. Goodbye."
Celestia tried to speak, but words would not come. And then Twilight turned away, and as she walked through the archway that led out from the little courtyard, she was already fading away, like morning mist melting under the sunlight.
Then the great wave of molten silver was upon Celestia, spilling from the mortar of the walls and welling up from between the paving stones beneath her hooves. It flowed out from every surface, covering the archway, the tree, the walls - until only Celestia herself remained.
And no matter which way she looked, uncountable reflections of her own tear-stained face stared back at her from every corner of the tiny mirror-universe cast in her own, immaculate image.
Luna's flight ended, a little unsteadily, on the highest tower of Canterlot Castle, where she landed and took a few moments to catch her breath. She was bruised and beaten and aching and covered from ear to tail in glittering moondust, but she pushed it all from her mind as she turned to face the moon's rapid approach.
Drawing on every remaining reserve of magic within her, Luna concentrated them together in a last, desperate spell. She pushed all four hooves against the tiles of the tower and braced herself as she brought her horn to bear and channelled the last of her magic towards the great looming disc.
Her coat tingled, her eyes glowed, and-
-there was a popping sound, and a handful of sparks fizzled at the end of her horn.
"Oh zoot," she swore.
At the Royal Canterlot Hospital, everypony had rushed to the other side of the roof to watch the twin stars of Rainbow and Spitfire rapidly receding into the distance.
"Now where the hay d'they think they're goin'?" muttered Applejack. "They've totally overshot. They'll end up half way to the Land of the Griffons at this rate!"
Rarity shook her head and tutted. "Once again, Applejack, I fear our darling Rainbow has again taken things a little too far."
Ditzy rallied her exhausted team. Feathers were frayed, coats were covered in sweat, but everypony's heart was soaring with the cheers and whoops of their audience far below them in the streets and squares of Canterlot.
But behind them the moon loomed even huger than before. And there was still no sign of the Princesses.
Even Ditzy herself began to lose hope. She felt a tornado of butterflies whizzing around in her stomach and trying to fly up her throat and escape, but she swallowed them back down. She had to be strong. Her team needed her.
Canterlot needed her.
She flew straight out in front of her team. "Okay everypony!" she cried. "Just one final effort! We've got to send our special Spring Moon Festival message to the heart of Canterlot!"
She flicked a switch, and the letter M on her front of her harness burst into glowing life.
Then she looked down, and, blushing, she hastily adjusted the harness so that it was the letter E once more.
Two dozen glowing letters suddenly sprung into existence in the skies over Canterlot. In one place an E and a P and a Q were all grouped together, while elsewhere a jumble of all different letters hung bobbing in the sky.
"Oh, how gorgeous!" sighed Rarity. "This must be the finale."
"Ah ain't never seen anythin' like this before," said Applejack.
"It kinda reminds me of alphabet soup!" said Pinkie. "Ooh, ooh! And alphabet custard!"
"Look!" cried Spike. "They're starting to make words!"
As Ditzy pointed this way and that in a frenzy, the Amateur Aerial Performance Team split into smaller groups and scattered in different directions. Ditzy herself rocketed up high into the air, and the black-maned Q flew behind her with seven more pegasi trailing after him.
Down on the roof of the hospital, the ponies all gazed up in wonder as words began to form in the sky above them.
"Eques lo sun?" recited Pinkie, reading the letters. "Wait wait wait, that's griffonese, isn't it?"
"They haven't finished yet, darling," said Rarity, drawing the little pink pony's gaze back up as the swirling letters continued to find their places.
"Equestria... loves..." read Fluttershy. "Oh, how lovely! It's some sort of message."
"Equestria loves sun...?" read Spike. "Huh?"
"Equestria loves sunnier scalp?" finished Rarity, furrowing her beautiful forehead in bafflement.
She had read it correctly. Over Canterlot, the words EQUESTRIA LOVES SUNNIER SCALP hung serenely against the night sky.
A murmur of confusion rustled through the crowd of ponies.
"What in the hay?" said Applejack.
"Perhaps it's some kind of... shampoo commercial?" suggested Rarity, unconvinced.
"It can't be," protested Applejack. "They ain't sold 'Sunnier Scalp' shampoo since I was a lil 'un! Cryin' shame, too," she added, running a forehoof through her mane. "It used to do wonders for the ol' hay-bale!"
Ditzy looked down at the other two rows below her own and slapped a forehoof to her forehead.
"Oh, this is all wrong!" she cried. "Quick, everypony! Let's regroup and try again."
The words broke up and gathered in a circle around Ditzy, who zipped about, giving each pegasus new instructions.
"This time, I want you to go in this direction, and you to go..."
Far beneath Canterlot mount, the residents of Ponyville were crowding the town square and the streets and the hillsides all around, eagerly watching the show. Among them were the foals of Springfield Elementary, gazing up at the sky from the gorgeous gardens of Diamond Tiara's palatial mansion. Her father Filthy Rich had forced her to invite all the little ponies in her class to a Spring Moon Festival Party - even the Cutie Mark Crusaders, much to her chagrin - and all the little fillies and colts were jostling and pushing each other, trying to find the best vantage point to watch the amazing things that were happening overhead.
"Look!" cried Scootaloo, who had stopped pushing and was pointing up into the sky. "They're making words again!"
"It ain't another shampoo commercial, is it?" asked Applebloom next to her.
"I don't think so," said Sweetie Belle. "Look, there's a word starting with a U and and an S this time." She hopped up and down, pointing at the various letters as they flew into place. "And there's and N and a... ooh! Ooh! There's a C now!"
Silver Spoon looked at the little unicorn with disgust. "We can all read, Sweetie Belle."
"If yer so smart," said Applebloom, coming to her friend's defence. "What does it say then?"
"It's obvious," said Silver Spoon, squinting into the sky. "'Equestria loves...'" Her eyes boggled. "Unclear Snips!?
The little colt of the same name, standing nearby with his friends Snails and Featherweight, gaped in surprise at his name appearing in the heavens. He scratched his head with a forehoof. "What does it mean, 'unclear'?"
"I would have thought the meaning was obvious," said Featherweight, stifling a laugh.
"And what does that mean?" demanded Snips.
Featherweight grinned. "I rest my case!"
Diamond Tiara was put out and stamped a dainty hoof in anger. "Why did he get a mention, when I didn't? I'm far cuter, and far more important!"
"I didn't get a mention, either" said Snails.
"Well," sniffed Snips, lifting his snout into the air. "I am only the Spring Moon Festival Amateur Aerial Performance Team's greatest fan!"
"Since when?" demanded Snails.
"Since forever!" snapped Snips.
"Oh, be quiet, both o' yer!" muttered Applebloom. "Them letters have started movin' again!"
Ditzy looked down at the words bobbing below her in horror. Oh, she'd messed it all up again! As she madly signalled for her team to return to her again, a bead of sweat appeared on her forehead and her eyes began to go straight. Oh, the stress was starting to give her an awful headache! But they had to do it right, this time! If she messed things up again, she could just imagine what Rainbow Dash would have to say...
The fierce blue face of the pegasus appeared in the air before her, shaking its head in dismay.
"Ditzy," said the apparition. "That was by far the awfulest display I have ever seen!"
Then it vanished, and the face of Princess Celestia appeared in its place, staring down at Ditzy imperiously.
"Ditzy Doo," it intoned. "It is my decree that from this day forth you will be known by the name Derpy Hooves!"
"Oh no! Not Derpy Hooves" squealed the pegasus, shaking her head until the face of Celestia, too, disappeared.
This is my last chance, thought Ditzy. If I screw this up, I'll be Derpy Hooves forever!
She gritted her teeth in determination. "This time for sure!"
The fliers zigzagged this way and that, and Ditzy flew about like an energetic firefly, making sure that everypony was in the right place. And then at last she flew up to become the 'E' of 'Equestria' again, and the fliers flew out in formation one last time.
Luna bit her lip. She stamped her hooves into the tiles of the tower, unfurled her wings full length, put back her ears, stuck out her head, furrowed her brows and concentrated until every feather and hair on her body was standing on end and sweat was beading on her forehead and running down her neck.
But try as she might, the magic still wouldn't come. Only the tiniest of sparks travelled along her hackles and the faintest of glimmers appeared at the end of her horn, to fizzle out ineffectually.
Luna lifted her face to the oncoming moon. It dominated the sky now, and there was surely only minutes left for them all. Even if she had wanted to fly away herself right now, she wouldn't be able to escape.
Despair gripped her heart, and she felt the final ounces of energy slip away from her. Tears welled up in her eyes as she stared at the gleaming disk now swallowing up the sky.
"I... I can't do this," she whispered. "Oh, Tia - where are you? I... I've failed you. I've failed everypony."
She started to close her eyes... but then, out of the corner of one of them she glimpsed a light. It wasn't the white of the approaching moon, but the colour blue - and then red, and orange, and all the colours of the rainbow soon followed.
And as she lifted her head, she saw the Amateur Aerial Performance Team soaring overhead, each of the pegasi wearing a letter of the alphabet in every colour of the rainbow. And she read the message that was written there.
It wasn't a shampoo commercial.
It wasn't a shout-out to a foal in Ponyville.
The message was...
"Equestria..." read Rarity, staring into the sky.
"Loves..." read Applejack next, slipping her forelegs around Rarity absent-mindedly.
"Princess..." read Fluttershy, her huge eyes opening wider in delight.
"Equestria Loves Princess Luna!" cried Spike, leaping up and pumping a little clawed hand into the air.
On the hospital rooftop, the crowd erupted into cheers and yells and whoops, while below them in the city, the voices of all the ponies there rose up to join them, until it was a single, huge roar. Like the crash of a great wave striking a shore, it echoed from the great white-washed walls of the castle and reverberated out through the night.
And Luna heard it, and read the words that were emblazoned across the skies of Canterlot with glistening eyes.
"All... all of Equestria loves me?" she whispered.
Below her, the roaring voices had begun a chant, and it grew louder with every voice that joined it.
"Lu-NA! Lu-NA! Lu-NA! Lu-NA! Lu-NA!"
As the chant echoed in her ears, all despair and doubt melted away. She turned, determination bursting anew within her heart, like flames exploding forth from a smouldering ember. Closing her eyes, she dove down deep, deeper, ever deeper into the wellspring of her magical energy, the wellspring that connected her to the great, white, living force known as the Light of Creation. It was the magic which lit both the Moon and the Sun, which divided itself in the endless beauty of the rainbow, and from which all things had sprung, and now it filled her to overflowing.
Luna's eyes flew open, blindingly white, her whole body crackling with energy. The purest of all magic was now coursing through her, travelling from every cell of her body up along her spine to pool in the point of her horn. And then it burst out of her, a great column of incandescence that pierced the night. Rising up through the dark night air, it struck the moon full-force, causing the plummeting orb to tremble and lurch.
The pillar of light soon arrested the moon's headlong descent, and it slowed rapidly, no longer able to fight its way through the great stream of white light pouring out from Luna's horn.
Finally it came to a shuddering halt. The great pillar of light faded away to nothing, and the moon was left hanging in space above the castle, a gigantic orb so close that it felt as though you might just reach up and touch it, sprinkling its warm yellow across every space of the city.
Celestia gazed at the uncountable reflections of her face staring back at her. Every face was worn, and drawn tight, the cheeks moist with tears, the eyes red and unblinking - and in their mauve depths she suddenly caught sight of the hideous loneliness that had long lived there, like a shadow draped across her heart.
And then she saw the faces contort, as if in pain, and the mouths opened, as if crying out, and then she heard their cry, and it was her own as she screamed out a "NO!" which echoed across all of time and space.
She threw herself at the great silver wall that surrounded her, her horn glowing white hot with despair and regret and love, a great bottomless well of love that flowed up inside her, filled her to overflowing and then spilled out from her.
She plunged her horn into the wall, and the silver shied back, like a living thing that feared the light...
...and then the mirror shattered, and Celestia was blown backwards, shielding her eyes with a forehoof as shards of silver swirl around her like a tornado of snowflakes.
She felt the impact of her body against the cold stone of a floor and her eyes flashed open. She found herself back in the Hall of Memory, lying next to Twilight, who had also been blown backwards, while all about them glittering fragments of the mirror fell like snow.
Moments later, Twilight opened her own eyes and looked up at her, and Celestia threw her forelegs around the little unicorn and swept her, weeping, into her embrace.
But then they heard a humming sound, and they turned as one to see the face of the next mirror nearest to them glowing white hot.
And a heartbeat later, it exploded as well, the disintegrating metal spraying out and filling the stone corridor with tiny scintillating flakes of silver.
Celestia shielded Twilight with her great wings, and turned her face away as mirror after mirror glowed white and disintegrated, until all that could be heard throughout the great hall was the cracking and shattering of glass.
And with each shattering mirror, a new memory sprang into being in Celestia's mind, and the pain and joy that spilled into her in waves drove her back onto the ground, tears flowing from her eyes as if they would never stop flowing.
Twilight, half-blinded by her own tears, threw her forelegs around Celestia's great arch of a neck as the alicorn wept, her body shuddering in despair.
"Oh, Twilight, I remember! I remember them all," she sobbed. "Verity, Aurora, Aurelia... I lost them! I lost them all and they left me here alone. And one day I'll lose you, just as I've lost them."
"Yes, Tia," said Twilight softly, stroking Celestia's mane with a forehoof as the sobs continued to wrack her body. "Someday you'll lose me. But today is not that day." And leaning forward, she lifted Celestia's face up and quickly kissed her on the lips - Celestia, Tia, the Princess, her Princess - her teacher, her mentor, her friend...
And when she felt the softness of Celestia's lips against her own, Twilight's breathing stopped. Her heart stopped. And finally, time itself stopped.
And Twilight and Celestia felt the memory of their first kiss extend beyond the limits of time, and through all of space. An eternal moment forever trapped, as if in a mirror.
On a secluded beach in the Eastern Ocean, not so terribly far from Baltimare, Spitfire and Rainbow Dash sat on the sand, utter exhaustion pervading every atom of their bodies. They were soaking wet, and singed, and the pungent smell of brimstone from the fireworks still hung around them. But they were alive.
Together, they looked out across the black ocean at the moon, hanging in the sky far in the distance. It was now motionless, and from it an aisle of pure light poured across the black waters of the ocean to set their faces and bodies aglow.
Spitfire turned to Rainbow, her expression under the light of the moon a mixture of triumph and disbelief.
"Rainbow, I can't believe we really-"
But she never finished her sentence, for Rainbow was already kissing her.
The great warm glow of the moon beamed down across the crowds that filled the streets and squares of Canterlot. Everypony had fallen utterly silent at the appearance of the great beam of energy, but now they were roaring even louder, squealing and laughing and whooping joyously. And everywhere the moon soaked with its glorious, glistening light, pony was hugging pony, and pony kissing pony.
Like many of the couples in the crowd on the hospital roof, Applejack and Rarity were hugging each other, oblivious to everypony else around them as they gazed up at the moon, their upturned faces shining in its light. Fluttershy stood near them, staring off into the distance in wrapt attention.
Spike and Pinkie, meanwhile, were both leaning against the balustrade and looking out across the moonlit streets.
The little dragon sighed suddenly and turned to Pinkie Pie.
"Hey Pinkie," he said. "You know what I could really go for right now?"
"What's that, Spikey?" she asked.
"Some pie!" he said, his eyes sparkling.
Pinkie blushed, but then her eyes went wide. "Oh, you mean apple pie, righ-" But her words were cut off by the little dragon kissing her.
After a while, Spike pulled away, his little purple face turning bright red. "Aw, geeze. I'm sorry, Pinkie - I dunno what came over me!"
"Oh, I know what did. I can feel it too!" Pinkie said, her grin growing even wider under the glow of the moon. "It's like I just drank a gallon of sarsaparilla, and all the sugar and bubbles are going right to my head!" And with that, she threw her forelegs around the bewildered little dragon and kissed him over and over again until his head spun.
The shouts of the crowd were echoing in Luna's ears as the final ounce of her magical energy fled her exhausted body. As if in a dream, she looked up at the now tame yellow light of the motionless moon and whispered a tired but heartfelt "Huzzah."
Then darkness slipped across her eyes and her legs fell out from under her. She skidded down the tiled roof of the tower and fell head-first over the edge.
Nopony saw her fall. Nopony, that was, except for Fluttershy. The pegasus had been staring up at the moon the whole time, like the others, but her eyes had been fixed on the black silhouette of the Princess, perched on the top of the highest tower in Canterlot. And now it was falling, slipping down across the great white disc of the moon, and she was the only one who had noticed.
In a panic she pulled herself away from the group of hugging and kissing ponies on the hospital roof.
"Oh, somepony has to do something!" she cried. "Where's Rainbow Dash?!"
But shout as she might, her gentle voice couldn't be heard over the happy cries and applause of the crowd.
Fluttershy knew she had no other choice. She swallowed nervously, and closing her eyes she leaped straight over the balustrade. With sharp sweeps of her wings, she flew out across the city, swifter than she'd ever flown in her entire life.
Luna was mere moments from hitting the flagstones of one of the many squares of Canterlot when Fluttershy reached her. The pegasus was barely able to keep her eyes open, so frightened was she of arriving too late, but with a last desperate burst of energy she swooped down and scooped the limp Luna out of the air. The alicorn was far too heavy for her to carry, however, and so the two careened, ear over tail, into the crowd that filled the square.
Ponies leaped left and right out of the way as Fluttershy and Luna smashed through them, rolling along the cobblestones until they finally ended up in a fountain with a colossal splash.
The impact and the cold water roused Luna from unconsciousness, and she found herself looking straight into Fluttershy's wide cyan eyes.
"Oh, Fluttershy," she whispered, barely able to find the energy to speak. "You... you saved my life!"
Fluttershy blushed red and turned away. "Oh, but Princess... you saved all of us!
Luna looked out across the crowd of ponies staring at them and then at the moon hanging above the castle, but she wasn't able to feel any joy at her success. All she remembered was the terrible fear in those gorgeous cyan eyes, and with the memory came a terrible guilt.
She turned back and met Fluttershy's innocent gaze with difficulty. "Oh, Fluttershy," she began, hesitantly. "You saved me. And even after I played such a horrible trick on you earlier."
Fluttershy's eyes blinked innocently. "A trick?"
Luna couldn't look her in the eye anymore and dropped her gaze. "It was I who took the form of Darkmane and chased you through the gardens earlier tonight. I... I merely intended it to be a game, but..."
Fluttershy's eyes went wide. "Darkmane... Darkmane was really you?"
"You must hate me," whispered Luna. "I... I'll understand if you never, ever want to see me again..." She lifted her face, dreading the hatred and disgust she expected to see on the pegasus' face.
But instead Fluttershy was just smiling at her shyly. "Oh, I forgive you, you big silly!"
And with that the pegasus booped her nose against Luna's, and a rosy blush sprang up on the cheeks of the all-powerful Princess of the Moon as she gaped and stared, utterly at a loss for the first time in her aeons-long life.
Side by side, Twilight and Celestia walked back through the Hall of Memories.
The Princess hadn't said anything for a long time, but Twilight knew that she was utterly exhausted. She let the Princess lean against her, supporting her weight as best she could, as they stepped gingerly over the shattered shards of mirror that now littered the floor like silver snow.
Now and then a larger fragment would pick up the image of the two lovers and reflect it back to them, and Twilight realised with half-hearted amusement that she looked every bit as careworn as Celestia did.
The Princess's eyes were sunken and dark, her face pinched and drawn, and she walked as though in a daze - automatic and with little energy. Twilight felt sudden panic well up inside her as she began to wonder whether the Princess would ever fully recover from her ordeal in the mirror.
But then Celestia stopped and, looking down at the glittering silver dust on the floor, broke the silence with a deep sigh.
"What a mess," she muttered. "It seems as if I have quite a bit of remembering to do, Twilight."
Twilight made no reply, but merely nodded.
"How many years of bad luck do you get for breaking a mirror again?" asked Celestia.
"Well," said Twilight, suddenly perking up at an opportunity to show off her knowledge. "The Equestrian Compendium of Curses says seven, and Tobin's Spirit Guide mentions six, but I personally agree with Starswirl the Bearded, who states in his Greater Index of Magic that..." She stopped midsentence, suddenly embarrassed at the trivial nonsense she was spouting.
"So... around seven thousand years bad luck, you think?" said Celestia.
Twilight smiled. "That sounds about right."
"Well, never mind," said Celestia. "With you by my side, my darling Twilight, I don't think I have much to fear from all that bad luck."
And Twilight saw the tired smile that had appeared on Celestia's face, breaking like the dawn over the ocean, and she knew that everything would be alright after all.
It was a wet and bedraggled Fluttershy and Luna that Applejack and the others found being mobbed by ponies. The timid pegasus was squeaking in alarm at the crush of well-wishers, and Luna had swept a wing around her and was using the other to fend off the more overenthusiastic ponies.
But then the crowd pulled away, and a shout went up as Ditzy Doo and the Amateur Aerial Performance Team came flying in, tired and sweaty, but filled with joy. They, too, were quickly mobbed, and the purple-maned P and the black-maned Q, wide-eyed, kept looking at the crowd and then back at each other, trying to decide whether they had imagined the whole thing.
Ditzy's face was one of confused happiness as well, but when she saw two figures swoop down from the sky and land nearby, her look straightaway changed to one of fearful anxiety. She turned and began to push her way through the crowd, hoping that the newcomers wouldn't notice her.
But Spitfire and Rainbow were already pushing their way through the crowd towards Luna, Fluttershy and the others, and when Rainbow spotted Ditzy trying to slip away, she quickly elbowed and squirmed her way to intercept the blonde-maned pegasus.
"Ditzy!" she cried out.
Ditzy turned and her mouth dropped open.
"R- rainbow Dash?" she stuttered.
Rainbow grabbed her around the shoulders and stared into the blonde-maned pegasus' eyes with alarming intensity. "Ditzy Doo, that was by far the awesomest display I have ever seen!"
Ditzy's face immediately fell. "Oh, I'm soooooo sorry, Rainbow!" she whimpered. "I know it was the awfulest display ever, and even after you told me not to, I-"
"Hey, wait a jiffy!" said Rainbow quickly. "I didn't say 'awfulest'... I said 'awesomest'!"
Ditzy, who had been on the verge of bursting into tears, stared at her. "Did you just say 'awesomest'?"
Rainbow nodded, grinning. "I sure did."
And then Ditzy really did burst into tears, and she continued to sob in happiness as Rainbow and Spitfire swept her up onto their shoulders and the entire Amateur Aerial Performance Team clustered around her, shouting and whooping.
"Three cheers for Ditzy!" cried Rainbow.
And the final "Hooray!" was so loud that it reverberated off the whitewashed walls of the Castle and echoed across the heavens themselves.
A little while later, Rarity looked up into the sky pensively and sighed. "All this excitement, and Princess Celestia and Twilight missed it all!"
"Well, I guess they got too swept up in their date!" said Pinkie Pie, who was busy eating a chocolate éclair she had somehow got a hold of.
"Date?" said Rarity, furrowing her brow in confused annoyance. Then she gave an affected laugh. "Oh, I see - another of your little jokes, darling."
Pinkie shook her head. "Oh, love is no joke!" she said, uncharacteristically serious even with a mouth half-full of chocolate and cream.
"Now wait a darn minute, Pinkie Pie," said Applejack. "Are you sayin' that Twilight and the Princess are... an item?"
"Oh, of course Twilight and Princess Celestia are in love," said Pinkie Pie, matter-of-fact. "You'd have to be blind not to notice! I mean, they're always looking at each other in exactly the same way that you and Rarity do!"
Applejack and Rarity looked at each other, then at their friends, and then back at each other, and a deep blush suddenly coloured Applejack's face.
But Rarity merely sniffed in annoyance. "Oh, what utter poppycock!" she said. "There is absolutely no way that Twilight and the Princess..."
She was interrupted by a hush that fell over the entire crowd. Everypony turned to watch as the crowd who were standing around the archway nearest to them suddenly parted and Princess Celestia and Twilight appeared, walking side by side into the square.
Both were singed and bedraggled and covered in silver dust, and the Princess was walking with obvious difficulty. But when they stopped and Celestia looked out across her assembled subjects, her face was a shining beacon of happiness, far brighter than even the midday sun. And the crowd watched in silent astonishment as the Princess of Equestria leaned her face down towards the little lavender-coated unicorn at her side and kissed her on the lips. Twilight's face flushed red-hot, but the embarrassment she felt couldn't stop the huge grin that burst onto her face.
The two lovers turned and gazed upon the crowd, as if waiting to see everypony's reaction - but there was none. Everywhere in the crowd there was utter silence.
A silence that was finally broken by a single cry of disbelief. "The Princess - and Twilight?"
Rarity brought a foreleg to her head and fell back in a swoon, and if Applejack hadn't been there to catch her, she would have fallen straight down onto the cobblestones.
Fluttershy was fanning her with her wings when Rarity returned to consciousness.
Rarity gazed up at her thankfully, but then she saw Celestia and Twilight with the others, looking down at her with concern, and everything came rushing back to her.
"Is... is it true?" she whispered.
Celestia and Twilight, who was blushing fiercely, nodded.
Rarity felt her stomach go ice-cold, while her entire coat began to burn and prickle her as if it was on fire. Finally, she took a deep, shuddering breath and composed herself.
"Princess Celestia, Twilight.," she began, tears starting at the corners of her eyes. "I'm so terribly, terribly sorry. I... I almost caused such a terrible tragedy, and all because of my mule-headedness!" She turned her head to a mule standing nearby and added, apologetically, "No offence."
"None taken," said the mule good-naturedly.
"And ah didn't stop you," said Applejack, hanging her head. "So ah'm just as much to blame as you are."
Celestia's eyes flicked from Luna to Rarity to Applejack, then back again, and she said nothing for a long while.
"Well," she said finally. "It's clear now that everything was a huge misunderstanding - much ahoof about nothing, I suppose you could say. And due to the bravery of certain heroic individuals-" She smiled at Ditzy, who was standing with Rainbow and Spitfire, and the blonde-maned pegasus blushed fiercely. "-no harm was done. But let's speak of this tomorrow. For tonight is all about celebration!" She walked over and lay her neck on Luna's in a warm pony-hug. "My dearest Lulu, I don't think I have ever seen your moon quite so beautiful. It's certainly the closest I've ever seen it to Canterlot."
Luna shivered a little at her sister's raised eyebrow, but then her face burst into a proud smile, little dimmer than the great shining orb hanging above their heads.
And throughout the whole of Canterlot, throughout the rest of the night and on til morning, there was laughter and dancing and singing and celebration and joy without limit, and by the end of it, everyone unanimously agreed that it had, indeed, been the best night ever.